Sunday, March 27, 2011

Have Saudi Women Achieved Their Rights?

The following article was published in Arab News on March 26, 2011 and was written by Walaa Hawari. The original article can be found HERE.

Have Saudi women achieved their rights?

By WALAA HAWARI | ARAB NEWS

Published: Mar 26, 2011 23:09 in Arab News

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA:
On March 8 the world celebrated International Women’s day. Some women across the world either expressed satisfaction at achieving some or all of their rights whereas others expressed aspirations to achieve them. It became clear that women are still demanding their rights and expecting to seem them materialize.

Celebrations within the Kingdom were rather humble and took the form of women simply stating the achievements of Saudi women. The question, however, remains whether Saudi women have actually achieved their rights or at the least some of them.

According to Thurya Abed Sheikh, a PhD holder, founding member of the National Society for Human Rights and vice president of the Al-Wafa Philanthropic Society for Women, Saudi women have “almost” achieved their rights.

“We cannot say we are there yet, but we are on the way,” she said, adding that women in the Kingdom have not made much progress with regards to the Shoura Council, the Municipal Council, driving and legal rights.

“Marriage, divorce and children’s custody are rights that Saudi women are still being denied,” she said, adding that she sees women suffering all the time through the work she does.

“There is no lucid and clear family law to govern breaches in those domains for which women pay a huge price,” said Sheikh, adding that although Saudi women are in high positions they are still short of achieving the simplest of rights.

Demands for women to be employed in courts is a long-term requirement, said Sheikh, adding that such a move would make it easy on women to communicate with legal representatives, judges and lawyers, and resolve matters quickly.

“Women’ rights are lost in courtrooms. Even when a women receives a ruling in her favor, no executive power follows up on whether the ruling has been executed,” said Sheikh, adding that many women lose custody of their children and do not receive alimony in cases when courts have awarded them such.

Sheikh is, however, optimistic that Saudi women will see their rights materialize.

May Al-Sudairi, a writer and human rights activist, strongly disagrees. “The Saudi woman is completely marginalized and the positions she is awarded are more symbolic,” she said, adding that a Saudi woman being at an international forum or conference or meeting Hillary Clinton does not solve her problems.

“I do not want to attend international events, while my voice is not heard inside,” said Al-Sudairi, adding that reforms in the legal system to better the situation of women are more important.

Saudi women are treated like minors, Al-Sudairi said, adding that they are required to be governed and guarded by male relatives regardless of their capability or compatibility.

“Forty and 60-year-old women, those who are in high positions even, need permission from a son, a brother or a male relative to travel and own property,” she said, adding that some women are forced to pay male relatives to give them travel permits or represent them in court.

Al-Sudairi advocates employing women in official positions, especially in the legal system, to enable them to be better heard and represented while providing jobs to unemployed women.

“Women have always operated in the justice system, take the example of Ayesha, the Prophet’s (pbuh) wife,” she said, adding that his first wife, Khadija, was a well-known businesswoman.

According to Amal Badrodeen, a pediatric and general health care consultant and educator, Saudi women have achieved some of their goals through their personal willpower, enthusiasm and persistence. She believes women have come a long way in the Kingdom.

“We did this on our own. Yes there were supporting elements, but we manipulated those elements to achieve our goals,” said Badrodeen, adding that sending women on scholarships and developing the education system are some of those elements.

Considering the achievements of Saudi women positively will encourage women to do more, said Badrodeen. She added that some sectors have developed further for women to move forward.

She, however, feels the legal system needs adjustment to allow Saudi women to achieve their rights. She also feels that Saudi women need to demand their rights and overcome obstacles to prove themselves in every field, adding that women cannot dispense of the support of men without totally depending on them. “It’s our right to gain our rights,” she said.

Madawi Al-Hassoon, a Saudi businesswoman and board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, feels that when it comes to women’s rights “Saudi women are still not there yet.”

Al-Hassoon said Saudi women are marginalized and oppressed despite official steps to give them their rights. “Regulations are issued in women’s favor, but applying them is difficult,” she said, adding that a royal decree was issued in 2008 permitting businesswomen to live in hotels. However, many hotels remain reluctant to allow businesswomen to live in hotels.

The Jeddah Economic Forum is another example of Saudi women being sidelined, she said, adding that Saudi businesswomen were not included or represented at the event this year and last year.

“We are optimistic that we will achieve our rights officially and with the support of the government. However, it is the application of those rights that we worry about, especially when there are individuals with certain agendas preventing women from moving forward,” said Al-Hassoon, adding that regulations need to be implemented and that this needs to be checked. She added that those who refuse to implement them should be punished.

The Riyadh Book Fair, said Al-Hassoon, is another example when certain individuals harassed Saudi women believing they have the right to instruct, criticize or correct them.

Maintaining the dignity of Saudi women is the responsibility of the officials, said Al-Hassoon, adding that their voices should be heard and their rights protected.

“How can we request a guardian to run her life when strangers have a right in her life.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Playboy Interview: Helen Thomas



Helen Thomas Playboy Interview
By David Hochman, Playboy, April 2011


For more than half a century, Helen Thomas owned the most valuable piece of real estate in the White House briefing room. Her front-row seat at presidential press conferences and its attendant benefits made her the unofficial dean of the White House press corps. She was often called on first and usually ended the gatherings with a signature “Thank you, Mr. President.” Her bold, irksome questions were like hot pokers to 10 US presidents, and her fearless approach rattled press secretaries and set a tone for generations of straight-shooting, badgering reporters. Last summer, still working full-time at 89, she saw her decades-long career fall to pieces after a two-minute video clip went viral on YouTube. A Long Island rabbi and blogger visiting the White House turned his camera on Thomas on May 27 and asked for “any comments on Israel.” Thomas instantly shot back, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” adding that the Jews “can go home” to “Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.” Endless media outrage ensued, prompting Thomas to issue an apology and abruptly “resign” from Hearst Newspapers on Jun 7. Her speaking agency dropped her, journalism schools and organizations rescinded awards named in her honor and she lost that prized seat in the White House. Thomas’s comments were not a complete shock to those who follow her. In recent years she practically scolded presidents and their gatekeepers for favoring Israel. She had previously asked the White House about Israel’s “secret” nuclear arsenal and why Obama did not condemn last May’s Israeli attacks on the aid flotilla headed for Gaza.

Born August 4, 1920, Thomas herself is of Arab descent. She was the seventh of nine children born in Winchester, Kentucky to Syrian-born emigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon. Her family soon moved to Detroit, where her father ran a grocery store even though he couldn’t read or write in English. News was often a topic around the house, and after college Thomas landed a job as a girl Friday at a Washington newspaper toward the end of World War II. That led her to the copy desk and a cub reporter position and eventually to a job covering government bureaucracy for the wire service United Press International. She remained at UPI for much of her career. As White House correspondent from the Kennedy administration on, Thomas had unusual prominence, despite standing just under five feet tall. Famously direct, Thomas was especially forceful with Bush 43, whom she once called “the worst president in US history.” She was relentless about getting him to explain his decision to go to war in Iraq, asking over and over, “What was your real reason? What was it? Why did you go to war?” His minions promptly moved Thomas to the back row of the briefing room. Thomas now writes a column for the Falls Church News-Press in Virginia. She still wakes early to read various newspapers delivered to her door, and she’s still out many nights talking politics at favorite Washington haunts.

Contributing Editor David Hochman got the idea to call Thomas to see if she wanted to talk. “She picked up the phone and said yes immediately,” he says. “I think she really appreciated the opportunity to do a long-format Q&A to express her side of what happened.”

Based in Los Angeles, Hochman flew to Washington to meet Thomas at her apartment near Dupont Circle. They also broke bread at her favorite Palestinian restaurant. “I was curious whether I’d find the ranting woman from the YouTube video,” Hochman says. “She turned out to be a person in full possession of her faculties and impressively articulate. Mostly she was the Thomas the public has known forever: feisty, passionate and not afraid to speak up.” Does Hochman, who is Jewish, believe Thomas is an anti-Semite? “I’ll let the reader decide. But I did think it was amusing when she presented a plate of ham sandwiches and then said, ‘Oh, I hope I haven’t served the wrong thing.’ ”


PLAYBOY: So is this how you pictured retirement?
THOMAS: I’m not retired! I was fired. In fact, I’ll die with my boots on. I’m still writing and I’ll continue to write and ask hard questions. I will never bow out of journalism.
PLAYBOY: Take us back to the White House courtyard on May 27 when Rabbi David Nesenoff pointed his camera at you and asked for your comments on Israel.
THOMAS: He pulled that thing out like a jackknife. I mean, he started out very nice, introducing me to these two young boys who wanted to be in journalism. He said, “Got any advice? Go for it.” I didn’t know it was Jewish Heritage Month, which is why he was at the White House and also why he asked “So what do you think of Israel?” That’s when I said, “They should get the hell out of Palestine.”
PLAYBOY: Did you realize how controversial those words were as you spoke them?
THOMAS: I knew I’d hit the third rail. You cannot say anything about Israel in this country. But I’ve lived with this cause for many years. Everybody knows my feelings that the Palestinians have been shortchanged in every way. Sure, the Israelis have a right to exist, but where they were born, not to come and take someone else’s home. I’ve had it up to here with the violations against the Palestinians. Why shouldn’t I say it? I knew exactly what I was doing, I was going for broke. I had reached the point of no return. You finally get fed up.
PLAYBOY: What was life like in the immediate aftermath as millions started viewing the video on YouTube?
THOMAS: I went into self-imposed house arrest for two weeks. It was a case of “know thyself.” Isn’t that what Socrates said? I wanted to see if I was remorseful, and I wasn’t.
PLAYBOY: Did the phone ring off the hook?
THOMAS: No. Nobody called. But I still have some friends in the White House press pool, who reached out to me. I understand they formed Jews for Helen Thomas at one point.
PLAYBOY: That’s interesting.
THOMAS: I also heard from Jimmy Carter. He called a few weeks later.
PLAYBOY: He did? What did he say?
THOMAS: Basically he was sympathetic. He talked about the Israelis in the Middle East, the violations. It was very nice of him to call, but I don’t want to get him into trouble.
PLAYBOY: His reaction certainly wasn’t typical.
THOMAS: No. Every columnist and commentator jumped on me immediately as anti-Semitic. Nobody asked me to explain myself. Nobody said, “What did you really mean?”
PLAYBOY: What did you really mean?
THOMAS: Well, there’s no understanding of the Palestinians at all. I mean, they’re living there and these people want to come and take their homes and land and water and kill their children and kill them. How many are still under arrest in Israel, never been charged, never been tried, never been convicted? Thousands. Why? Meanwhile, we keep giving Israel everything. Our government bribes the Israelis by saying, “Please come to the table and we’ll give you this and we’ll give you that.” Obama’s last offer to the Israelis was $22 billion in new fighter planes, a veto at the UN for anything pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian and a three-month freeze on the colonization and settlers. I mean, what is this? They gave away the store, just as Reagan and every other president did. Why do you have to bribe people to do the right thing? I don’t want my government bribing anybody. I want them demanding. Stop all this aid to Israel when they’re killing people!
PLAYBOY: It was your follow-up comment, when you said the Jews should go back to Poland, Germany and America, that really infuriated people.
THOMAS: Well, that immediately evoked the concentration camps. What I meant was they should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted, not since WW2, not since 1945. If they were, we sure would hear about it. Instead, they initiated the Jackson-Vanik law, which said the US would not trade with Russia unless it allowed unlimited Jewish emigration. But it was not immigration to the US, which would have been fine with me. It was to go to Palestine and uproot these people, throw them out of their homes, which they have done through several wars. That’s not fair. I want people to understand why the Palestinians are upset. They are incarcerated and living in an open prison. I say to the Israelis, “Get out of people’s homes!” It’s unacceptable to have soldiers knocking on a door at three in the morning and saying, “This is my home.” And forcing people out of homes they’ve lived in for centuries? What is this? How can anybody accept it? I mean, Jewish-only roads? Would anyone tolerate something like that in the US? White-only roads?
PLAYBOY: You mean Israeli-only roads, not Jewish only, right?
THOMAS: Israeli-only roads, okay. But it’s more than semantics because the Palestinians are deprived of owning these roads. This is their land. I’m sorry, but we’re talking about foreigners who came and said, “God gave this land to us.” Rabin said, “Where’s the deed?” I mean, come on! Do you know that an Arab Palestinian trying to go home to see his mother has to go through 10 checkpoints and then is held there, while a US tourist can go through right like that? The Palestinian people have to carry their kids to hospitals and are not allowed to drive cars and so forth. What is this? No US Jew would tolerate that sort of treatment here against blacks or anyone else. Why do they allow it over there? And why do they send my US tax dollars to perpetuate it?
PLAYBOY: Do you acknowledge that some Palestinian behavior over the years, including hijacking and the use of suicide bombers, has been wrong and has added to the problem?
THOMAS: In an ideal world passive resistance and world disarmament would be great. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone. But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation. Three generations of Palestinians have been forced out of their homes by Israelis and into refugee camps. And the Israelis are still bulldozing Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem. Remember, Menachem Begin invented terrorism as his MO, and bragged about it in his first book. That’s how Israel was created, aided and abetted by US money and arms. To annex and usurp an occupied people’s country is illegal under international law. The Israelis know that, but their superior military force has always prevailed against the indigenous people.
PLAYBOY: What’s your reaction to the changes sweeping through the Arab world as throngs of demonstrators take to the streets across the region?
THOMAS: I love the new revolutionary spirit in the Middle East and North Africa. The power of the people is removing ruthless dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, and that’s only the beginning. There is no stopping this free new movement. The Arab world is waking up to the possibilities of democratic life and freedom for its people, and I am happy to see this happening in my lifetime.
PLAYBOY: Do you have a personal antipathy toward Jews themselves?
THOMAS: No. I think they’re wonderful people. They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights. They’ve always had the heart for others but not for Arabs, for some reason. I’m not anti-Jewish; I’m anti-Zionist. I am anti-Israel taking what doesn’t belong to it. If you have a home and you’re kicked out of that home, you don’t come and kick someone else out. Anti-Semite? The Israelis are not even Semites! They’re Europeans, and they’ve come from somewhere else. But even if they were Semites, they would still have no right to usurp other people’s land. There are some Israelis with a conscience and a big heart, but unfortunately they are too few.
PLAYBOY: In the wake of your anti-Israel comments, a blogger from The Atlantic argued there’s really no distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. He wrote, “Thomas was fired for saying that the Jews of Israel should move to Europe, where their relatives had been slaughtered in the most devastating act of genocide in history. She believes that once the Jews are evacuated from their ancestral homeland, the world’s only Jewish country should be replaced by what would be the world’s 23rd Arab country. She believes that Palestinians deserve a country of their own but that the Jews are undeserving of a nation-state in their homeland, which has had a continuous Jewish presence for 3,000 years… ”
THOMAS: Did a Jew write this? (Editor’s note: The writer is Jeffrey Goldberg, who is Jewish.)
PLAYBOY: “…and has been the location of two previous Jewish states. This sounds like a very anti-Jewish position to me, not merely an anti-Zionist position.”
THOMAS: This is a rotten piece. I mean it’s absolutely biased and totally, who are these people? Why do they think they’re so deserving? The slaughter of Jews stopped with World War II. I had two brothers and many relatives who fought in that war against Hitler. We believed in it. Every American family was in that fight. But they were liberated since then. And yet they carry on the victimization. The US people do not know that the Israeli lobbyists have intimidated them into believing every Jew is a persecuted victim forever, while they are victimizing Palestinians.
PLAYBOY: Let’s get to something else you said more recently. In a speech in Detroit last December, you told an Arab group, “We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that. Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is. We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.” Do you stand by that statement?
THOMAS: Yes, I do. I know it was horrendous, but I know it’s true. Tell me it’s not true and I’ll be happy to be contradicted. I’m just saying they’re using their power, and they have power in every direction.
PLAYBOY: That stereotype of Jewish control has been around for more than a century. Do you actually think there’s a secret Jewish conspiracy at work in this country?
THOMAS: Not a secret. It’s very open. What do you mean secret?
PLAYBOY: Well, for instance, explain the connection between Hollywood and what’s happening with the Palestinians.
THOMAS: Power over the White House, power over Congress.
PLAYBOY: By way of contributions?
THOMAS: Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood. Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.
PLAYBOY: Who are you thinking about specifically? Who are the Jews with the most influence?
THOMAS: I’m not going to name names. What, am I going to name the Ponzi guy on Wall Street or the others? No.
PLAYBOY: Then how do you make the claim that Jews are running the country?
THOMAS: I want you to look at the Congress that just came in. Do you think (New York Democratic senator Charles) Schumer and Lehtinen, whatever her name is, in Florida (Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strong supporter of Israel) are going to be pro-Arab? No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing. If you’re not in, you’re eased out, just as Senator William Fulbright was in the 1960s (after claiming that millions of tax-deductible dollars from American philanthropies were being sent to Israel and then funneled back to the U.S. for distribution to organizations with pro-Israel positions). Congressman Paul Findley from a little old rural district in Illinois made the mistake of shaking hands with Yasir Arafat years ago. It ended up costing him his re-election. He later wrote a book called They Dare to Speak Out about how impossible it is to have a position in this country that takes on Israel. Maybe there is a handful that can, but in general you cannot speak against any Zionist movement in this country.
PLAYBOY: Do you begrudge people like Steven Spielberg? He created the Shoah Foundation to chronicle the life stories of Holocaust survivors. What’s your feeling about him?
THOMAS: There’s nothing wrong with remembering it, but why do we have to constantly remember? We’re not at fault. I mean, if they’re going to put a Holocaust museum in every city in Germany, that’s fine with me. But we didn’t do this to the Jews. Why do we have to keep paying the price and why do they keep oppressing the Palestinians? Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That’s true, but they shouldn’t use that to dominate.
PLAYBOY: In America you’re talking about a relatively small community. Jews make up roughly 2% of the US population. On a worldwide level, the percentage is well under 1%. Those numbers don’t exactly spell domination.
THOMAS: I get where you’re leading with this. You know damn well the power they have. It isn’t the 2%. It’s real power when you own the White House, when you own these other places in terms of your political persuasion. Of course they have power. You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?
PLAYBOY: Yes.
THOMAS: That’s what I thought. Well, you know damn well they have power.
PLAYBOY: Why did it take you so long to speak out like this?
THOMAS: It hasn’t taken that long. I’ve told all my friends and so forth. This has been an issue for me since I first came to Washington.
PLAYBOY: You’ve kept quiet publicly since the 1940s?
THOMAS: It was certainly on my mind back then. The UN Partition Plan was being debated at the UN and in the Arab community, and I knew what the Arabs were going through since I have an Arab background. I was part of that community. Like I said, I’ve never hesitated to tell my views to all my friends. They knew exactly where I stood. But I finally wanted to speak the truth. And I think I’m old enough to get away with it. Well, almost. Not quite.
PLAYBOY: Were you surprised that people like David Duke and even Hezbollah came out and said you were courageous and a hero for them?
THOMAS: I don’t want to be a hero to anyone. I just want to be me, and I want to tell the truth. I want everyone to accept the truth. It’s horrible to say some of my best friends are Jews, but they are and they have been.
PLAYBOY: Don’t take this the wrong way, but the question many people have is, Has Helen Thomas lost her mind? You’re 90, after all. Do you still have all your faculties?
THOMAS: I resent that question! I thoroughly resent it. Why are you interviewing me if I’m crazy? It wouldn’t be worth it to you, would it?
PLAYBOY: It’s not an unreasonable question.
THOMAS: I resent it. You should apologize.
PLAYBOY: But it’s the question everyone wants answered, and you’re the one who always tells journalists to ask the hard questions.
THOMAS: They want to know if I’m crazy? You have to be crazy to criticize Israel? You have to be crazy to criticize tyranny? I learned before Hitler that you have to stand up for something. You have to stand up. We always have to take a stand against human tyranny wherever it occurs.
...
PLAYBOY: Do you picture heaven in any way? What would heaven be for you?
THOMAS: I never thought about heaven per se. I think when you’re dead, you’re dead. If anything happens after that, you just hope you don’t go to hell.
PLAYBOY: When people write your obituary…
THOMAS: Oh, I know what they’re going to say: “anti-Semite.”
PLAYBOY: That has to bother you after all your years of hard work.
THOMAS: I’m a reporter.
PLAYBOY: What’s making you emotional?
THOMAS: I’m a reporter. I know damn well what they’re going to say because they have their print, they have their ink. They don’t give a damn about the truth. They have to have it their way, and they’ll be writing my obituary.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t that their job?
THOMAS: Well, I don’t want to be treated that way. I’m sorry. But what am I supposed to do, love every Jew because they want to take Palestine? It’s a real cause with me. They should have a conscience and they don’t if that’s what they’re going to do. Is there such a thing as a conscience? I think there is. Stop taking what doesn’t belong to you! Stop killing these people. These children throw stones at them, and they shoot them. Where is the Jewish conscience? I want to know. Have some feeling. They can’t just come in and say, “This is my home,” knock on the door at three in the morning and have the Israeli military take them out. That’s what happens. And that’s what happened to the Jews in Germany. Why do they inflict that same pain on people who did nothing to them?
I sure didn’t want to cry. But I do care about people. And I don’t care what they write about me. They’ve already written it. My family will be disappointed in me for crying.
PLAYBOY: We in the public never get to see you cry. Helen Thomas has always been the picture of toughness and strength.
THOMAS: Oh, I’ve cried all my life. I’m a crybaby. It’s not that I’m soft; I just cry at the drop of a hat.
PLAYBOY: Let’s shift gears. You have literally had a front-row seat on the presidency. What should the American people know about how the White House really operates?
THOMAS: They don’t know how intense the pressure from different special interests is on the president and congressmen. Politicians more often than not give in to that pressure. These elected officials are supposed to be doing what we want them to do. But I suppose that’s the reason we have the Tea Party. People are unhappy. The trouble is, swinging to the right is always dangerous. We end up losing so much in the rush to conservatism. But even Obama has fallen down that hole. He’s pushing a conservative agenda.
PLAYBOY: The right doesn’t see Obama that way. How is Obama conservative?
THOMAS: Look at Guantánamo. With a stroke of a pen, the day after Obama took the oath he should have said, “We’re getting the hell out of here.” Same thing with Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s no reason for us to be in a war. “They’ll all come here if we don’t go there.” That is baloney. Go halfway around the world to kill and die? Why? Now the veterans can’t get jobs. I see stories every day about soldiers being liberated from Iraq only to end up unemployed. Where is Obama? How can he continue these Bush policies that were so mean and rotten and unjust? People had this impression that Obama would be a peaceful president, but there he is, as hawkish as any of them. And Hillary Clinton is no liberal either. She put out the word to “capture or kill” for Afghanistan. What would she do that for, really? Capture or kill? What does this mean? I thought, naively perhaps, that she and Obama would bring change, that they would be different. I assumed wrongly that they would be liberal because he’s black and she’s a woman. It’s maddening.

PLAYBOY: You certainly never had a problem asking hard questions. George W. Bush moved you to the back of the briefing room to get you off his back.
THOMAS: Actually, it was Ari Fleischer, the number one liar in the White House. He didn’t like that I was asking too many mean questions about where the Israelis were getting their arms and whatnot. So I got pushed to the back. But the first opportunity I had to challenge Bush, I did.
PLAYBOY: You asked him a bold question in 2006. You said, “Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war?” He danced around the answer. Did you have an answer in mind when you asked that question? What do you think has driven US involvement in these recent wars?
THOMAS: You tell me.
PLAYBOY: No, you tell us.
THOMAS: Well, no president has ever told the truth about why we’re there. I think oil has a lot to do with it. I think there’s an Israel connection. Our government feels compelled to protect Israel. With Bush, some people say it was George Jr avenging for Daddy. At least Bush’s father understood what war was about. He had been in war. He was more cautious. He certainly lined up the Arab countries to support fighting the invasion of Kuwait. The Bush family has always been rich people in search of a job, but George Sr had been head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee. He knew politics and he knew foreign policy, but he didn’t give any of that to his son. Dubya was a hip-shooter. If you look at the Downing Street Memo from 2002, you see the chief of British intelligence had come here just before George Jr’s invasion of Iraq. It concludes that the president simply was determined to go to war and that he wanted to fix the facts to do it. But there were no facts. We just went to war for no reason.
PLAYBOY: So you never believed the line that the world would be “a safer place” without Saddam Hussein?
THOMAS: I think it was wrong to hang Saddam Hussein. He should have been put before an international court for war crimes and everything else. But for us to just bypass the law and have him hanged was wrong. Not that the press called the president on it. The press rallied around the flag on that one.
PLAYBOY: Who’s your most trusted news source, by the way?
THOMAS: Nobody, really. I like the liberal press. I like E J Dionne in The Washington Post. I like Sam Donaldson. I believe he’s an honest man. I loved Walter Cronkite. I certainly loved Ed Murrow. But I don’t see replicas around.

PLAYBOY: Is anyone asking the tough questions about Israel?
THOMAS: We’re still not getting the full story on Israel. I asked both Obama at a news conference and Hillary if they knew of any nations in the Middle East that had nuclear weapons. Obama danced around it and said, “I don’t want to speculate.” Hillary said, “Oh, Helen, you’re cute” or something to that effect. She laughed it off.
PLAYBOY: Why would our government remain quiet if Israel had nukes?
THOMAS: Years ago we made a pact with Golda Meir never to say it. In her era, they would never say it, and they can’t say it now because they can’t tell Iran and all these other countries that they have nukes. That’s my opinion. Our government won’t tell the truth, and neither will the Israelis. Everyone knows, but I can’t write “Everyone knows.” You have to attribute it to somebody. Again, you don’t see these stories in the news. You have to go to a magazine like the Nation or the offbeat press to find out what is really happening. They don’t say that in the NYT.
PLAYBOY: Or we can get our news from comedians like Jon Stewart. What’s your take on him?
THOMAS: I don’t know. He called me anti-Semitic. What is this crap? Anti-Semitic? What is he?
PLAYBOY: What about Bill Maher?
THOMAS: I like Bill Maher. Remember when he said the 9/11 bombers were not cowards? He lost his job temporarily, but he was right: Anybody who flies an airplane into a building isn’t a coward. That was too logical for people, though. You can’t be that honest. It’s like the Japanese kamikazes in WW2. They were diabolical, flying right into ships, but they certainly weren’t cowards. There are two sides to every story. I guess the trouble is certain stories just don’t sell newspapers.
PLAYBOY: Nothing’s selling newspapers these days.
THOMAS: And it’s a tragedy. I still like a newspaper in my hand. I get the Washington Post and the New York Times outside the door every morning and run to them. I like the print press. You don’t get anything in depth anymore without a newspaper. Everything is a headline, a sound bite. I worry about young people really getting to know what’s going on in our world.
PLAYBOY: How much time do you spend online?
THOMAS: Uh-uh. I’m a paper-and-pencil person. I probably should look at Facebook and Huffington Post and these other things, but I don’t. Everyone with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist and everyone with a camera thinks they’re a news photographer. Where are the standards? How can we get back to the ethics and standards of journalism? There’s no editing, no oversight. It’s just thrown to the wind. I’m afraid of what’s happening.
PLAYBOY: But you can’t deny the power of the web. Look at WikiLeaks. What did you think of those diplomatic revelations?
THOMAS: I think it’s great. It’s important to reveal what’s going on behind the scenes. We wouldn’t have known half this stuff without this information, and it’s going to change everything as far as diplomacy. It’s hard to believe we didn’t know some of this stuff before. Maybe I should have been digging into these things myself. I’m probably not a good reporter.
...
PLAYBOY: What’s your hope for the future?
THOMAS: On a political level, I hope for disarmament. Billions and billions are being spent every week on the war in Afghanistan. We have 700 military bases around the world. What do you think it costs to keep that war machine running? It’s not working. I thought Obama would be for peace, but he’s not. There are no peacemakers left. There’s no antiwar movement to speak of. America just keeps going, keeps fighting, keeps spending. I want the killing to stop.
PLAYBOY: How would you like to be remembered?
THOMAS: As the person who asked why. That’s what I want as my epitaph: “Why?” It’s always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered. As I said before, because of what happened recently, people are going to remember me a certain way. The truth is, I don’t hate anybody. I care deeply about people. I care for the poor, the sick, the lame, the harmed, those who’ve been treated unjustly. I like the fact that you asked me if I’m nuts. People think you’re nuts if you take a stand in this life. I’ve always cared about what happens in the world, and I think what the Israelis are doing is wrong. We have to care about our fellow man, and we don’t. Somehow we’ve lost that sense. It’s become almost a sin to care. But we are all God’s children, right?
PLAYBOY: Do you believe in God?
THOMAS: Who knows? I was raised Greek Orthodox, but I never understood what was going on. In college I moved away from religion, and then when I went to work I would go to church with the president. I’d pray to whatever god the president prayed to. I prayed to all of them, just in case. Now I just pray in hopes that something good will happen. I pray to whoever the gods may be.
...

I have omitted parts of this very lengthy interview as published in Playboy’s April 2011 issue.To read the Helen Thomas interview in its entirety, click here.

For those of you in Saudi Arabia or where the Playboy site might be blocked from viewing, you might try accessing this site to read the interview in its entirety.

Click here for Paul Findley's write-up "Helen Thomas Deserves Praise."

Friday, March 11, 2011

Jeddah's Il Villaggio Restaurant Presents Its Mediterranean Festival


WIN a FABULOUS DINNER FOR TWO in Jeddah at Il Villaggio Restaurant! (transportation not included)

Il Villaggio Restaurant celebrates the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy with a Mediterranean Festival featuring the iconic ingredients used in traditional Italian dishes. The festival takes place March 14th through March 17th in Jeddah.

"Sample a menu with ingredients which have been used for a very long time in traditional recipes and are still among the all time favorites today. Taste heritage by indulging in authentic dishes which have their origin in different parts of Italy. Experience a true Italian Menu. Learn through food the history and events what created Italy 150 years ago and made Italy what it is today!

This menu will be served from 14th March to 17th March in the Luigi Restaurant at Il Villaggio Restaurants & Lounges. In addition we also offer cooking lessons with insights about the history of Italian food during the same period.

If you like to reserve a table or want to inquire and receive more details, please contact us by email: agm@ilvillaggio-complex.net or telephone 02-668-8233.

We will be happy to welcome you and your family, friends or colleagues during this special week at the restaurant or any time."

From the Management of Il Villaggio Restaurant & Lounges, Al Andalus Street, Jeddah - Telephone 02-668-8233


For a chance to WIN A DINNER FOR TWO at Il Villaggio Restaurant, LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST telling me what your FAVORITE ITALIAN DISH is. Be sure to include your NAME and EMAIL ADDRESS. ACT QUICKLY! The deadline for entering is MARCH 13. Two lucky winners will be announced very soon.

Go to Il Villaggio's Facebook page.

To RSVP to the Mediterranean Festival Event, or to view the Sample Menu, CLICK HERE.

For more info, check out their website at www.mediterraneans.me

Here is a quick video tour of the restaurant interior by the MadTraveller:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saudi Regime Braces for Democracy Protests

The following is the transcript from a radio interview with Mohammed Al Qatani, an economist and leading Saudi civil rights activist, conducted by Eleanor Hall, a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She is the host of a daily radio broadcast news show called The World Today, which airs in Australia and in the Asia Pacific region. She has worked as a journalist in both radio and television in many different countries around the world, including the United States. She is based in Sydney.

ELEANOR HALL: While world leaders are understandably focused on the crisis in Libya could the world's largest oil producer be the next in line for violent change?

Saudi Arabian activists have called for a day of rage after Friday prayers tomorrow.

While large protests are unheard of in Saudi Arabia more than 32,000 people have so far supported the call on Facebook and thousands have also signed petitions calling for the monarchy which has Islamic religious backing to be bolstered by an elected parliament.

The Saudi government is noticeably nervous. Last week the regime announced a $37 billion aid package to the Saudi people and warned activists that security forces would crack down on any demonstrations.

The senior Islamic Council also deeming the protests un-Islamic. And there is already a big security presence on the streets.

One of Saudi Arabia's leading civil rights activists says the government has good reason to be nervous.

Mohammad al-Qahtani is the head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.

He said he hopes there is no violence tomorrow but that he just can't predict how many people may turn up after Friday prayers.

He spoke to me earlier from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Mohammad al-Qahtani, who is organising this and how big do you expect this demonstration to be tomorrow?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Well to be frank with you we don't know who's behind it. You know they just publish stuff on Facebook but I think people are really motivated after what happened in Egypt and elsewhere.

The question is will it turn out to be a huge crowd or a small crowd or none is open. We don't know.

ELEANOR HALL: Why have Saudis not been on the streets demanding change in the numbers that we've seen in other countries in the region?

Is it because of state repression or that there's not such desperation for change in Saudi Arabia?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Well no there is desperation for change. You know I'll tell you there are injustice; there are grievances. People are thrown in prison arbitrarily and indefinitely.

But the problem is people are not really organised to work in a group. State oppression of course is a factor and it's quite effective.

You know a couple of years ago they arrest a couple of guys intending to go to a public sit-in and they're still in prison for a couple of years for their having the intention to do so.

Well the other element also - just a couple of days ago the government announced these restrictions forbidding demonstration and public protestation. So they use these restrictions to cripple the people and control the people.

Does it still have effect? It might. But it has weakened. And wait and see.

ELEANOR HALL: So you say that this is an anonymous internet call for the protests. There have also been petitions calling for change. How significant are these?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Well I think the petitions are an interesting phenomena because in the past you have a petition and you wait for a few years to get another petition.

But within two weeks you have four or five petitions and people are demanding exactly the same thing - establishing a constitutional monarchy.

So I think the change and the feeling for change is in the air.

But how much you will see a response by the regime by making concessions - I think they are not willing to do so unless they see real threats.

I think the coming few weeks will make the picture more clear.

ELEANOR HALL: What sort of size of protest would represent a real threat to the king?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Well see in the past Friday there were at least three demonstration in different cities.

And they made concessions to a Shia sect - they freed their political prisoners and they made promises for them to release so-called forgotten prisoners who have been in prison for more than a decade.

ELEANOR HALL: The king last week seemed to be trying to head off a revolt against him by handing out several billion dollars worth of social benefits.

Is that likely to succeed in dampening enthusiasm for change?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: You see the issue is not really about money. People are really yearning for liberty, freedom, freedom of expression and so on and so forth.

You know people really need change. They want to see their fundamental rights be respected.

ELEANOR HALL: Just how restrictive is daily life for Saudi people under Sharia law?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Just imagine yourself a woman living in Saudi Arabia. It's tough.

And also let's say that you want to write your opinion and publish it on your website or blog - then you could be endangering yourself.

They do not respect really fundamental rights that distinguish a human being from an animal. So it's pretty tough.

ELEANOR HALL: You say that people want a greater role in the government. Is the king personally hated?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: No not at all. I think the king is popular. But he could not deliver because there are people who are throwing obstacles in his way to introduce genuine reform to his people.

I think these tumultuous events that just happened throughout the Middle East might give them a chance to present genuine reform steps to his people maybe in the near future.

ELEANOR HALL: Is it significant that almost two-thirds of Saudi Arabia's population is under the age of 30? Is that significant in driving the mood for change within your country?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Most definitely. I think the revolt in Egypt in particular was led by these youngsters.

Likewise here with this demographic phenomenon we have it here in Saudi Arabia. And they see by their eyes the failure of the regime to provide jobs, genuine education. And they feel that they are really marginalised.

ELEANOR HALL: So is the regime showing any signs that it may compromise?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Not at all. I don't think they are willing really to make any concessions to the people.

So unless you know people showed up in great number then they might. But by then it's going to be too late.

ELEANOR HALL: So do you fear that if there is no compromise there could be violence - lives could be lost?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Well I hope not. I hope it's going to be peaceful. You see a lot of police cruisers tonight you know circling Riyadh streets.

On my way to my home tonight I've seen tens of police cruisers. And also you have police unmarked cars.

So I think it's wait and see. I won't be really surprised that if none show in the protestation.

But again no-one could predicted Egypt on the other hand and Tunisia.

I hope the police will not crackdown protesters. I hope by maybe tomorrow night they could announce something huge that could placate the people - that they could make promises to free political prisoners, open election of parliament, writing a constitution.

ELEANOR HALL: Clearly the regime is wary about protests. But if it is very small or indeed non-existent, is that the end in terms of the push for change?

MOHAMMAD AL-QAHTANI: Absolutely not. I think people knew what was going on. They knew their rights. And they have learned the lesson of what happened in other Middle Eastern countries.

It's not going to be all over soon if people do not show up.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Mohammad al-Qahtani, the head of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. He was speaking there from the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Robert Fisk Article About Saudi Arabia

The following article was written by Robert Fisk and was published March 5, 2011, in The Independent. Mr. Fisk is a British author and award-winning journalist who has been an international news reporter for many years and knows intimately the politics and workings of the Middle East region.


Saudis Mobilise Thousands of Troops to Quell Growing Revolt


By Robert Fisk, Middle East Correspondent for The Independent


Saudi Arabia was yesterday drafting up to 10,000 security personnel into its north-eastern Shia Muslim provinces, clogging the highways into Dammam and other cities with busloads of troops in fear of next week's "day of rage" by what is now called the "Hunayn Revolution".

Saudi Arabia's worst nightmare – the arrival of the new Arab awakening of rebellion and insurrection in the kingdom – is now casting its long shadow over the House of Saud. Provoked by the Shia majority uprising in the neighbouring Sunni-dominated island of Bahrain, where protesters are calling for the overthrow of the ruling al-Khalifa family, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is widely reported to have told the Bahraini authorities that if they do not crush their Shia revolt, his own forces will.

The opposition is expecting at least 20,000 Saudis to gather in Riyadh and in the Shia Muslim provinces of the north-east of the country in six days, to demand an end to corruption and, if necessary, the overthrow of the House of Saud. Saudi security forces have deployed troops and armed police across the Qatif area – where most of Saudi Arabia's Shia Muslims live – and yesterday would-be protesters circulated photographs of armoured vehicles and buses of the state-security police on a highway near the port city of Dammam.

Although desperate to avoid any outside news of the extent of the protests spreading, Saudi security officials have known for more than a month that the revolt of Shia Muslims in the tiny island of Bahrain was expected to spread to Saudi Arabia. Within the Saudi kingdom, thousands of emails and Facebook messages have encouraged Saudi Sunni Muslims to join the planned demonstrations across the "conservative" and highly corrupt kingdom. They suggest – and this idea is clearly co-ordinated – that during confrontations with armed police or the army next Friday, Saudi women should be placed among the front ranks of the protesters to dissuade the Saudi security forces from opening fire.

If the Saudi royal family decides to use maximum violence against demonstrators, US President Barack Obama will be confronted by one of the most sensitive Middle East decisions of his administration. In Egypt, he only supported the demonstrators after the police used unrestrained firepower against protesters. But in Saudi Arabia – supposedly a "key ally" of the US and one of the world's principal oil producers – he will be loath to protect the innocent.

So far, the Saudi authorities have tried to dissuade their own people from supporting the 11 March demonstrations on the grounds that many protesters are "Iraqis and Iranians". It's the same old story used by Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt and Bouteflika of Algeria and Saleh of Yemen and the al-Khalifas of Bahrain: "foreign hands" are behind every democratic insurrection in the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mr Obama will be gritting their teeth next Friday in the hope that either the protesters appear in small numbers or that the Saudis "restrain" their cops and security; history suggests this is unlikely. When Saudi academics have in the past merely called for reforms, they have been harassed or arrested. King Abdullah, albeit a very old man, does not brook rebel lords or restive serfs telling him to make concessions to youth. His £27bn bribe of improved education and housing subsidies is unlikely to meet their demands.

An indication of the seriousness of the revolt against the Saudi royal family comes in its chosen title: Hunayn. This is a valley near Mecca, the scene of one of the last major battles of the Prophet Mohamed against a confederation of Bedouins in AD630. The Prophet won a tight victory after his men were fearful of their opponents. The reference in the Koran, 9: 25-26, as translated by Tarif el-Khalidi, contains a lesson for the Saudi princes: "God gave you victory on many battlefields. Recall the day of Hunayn when you fancied your great numbers.

"So the earth, with all its wide expanse, narrowed before you and you turned tail and fled. Then God made his serenity to descend upon his Messenger and the believers, and sent down troops you did not see – and punished the unbelievers." The unbelievers, of course, are supposed – in the eyes of the Hunayn Revolution – to be the King and his thousand princes.

Like almost every other Arab potentate over the past three months, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suddenly produced economic bribes and promised reforms when his enemy was at the gates. Can the Arabs be bribed? Their leaders can, perhaps, especially when, in the case of Egypt, Washington was offering it the largest handout of dollars – $1.5bn (£800m) – after Israel. But when the money rarely trickles down to impoverished and increasingly educated youth, past promises are recalled and mocked. With oil prices touching $120 a barrel and the Libyan debacle lowering its production by up to 75 per cent, the serious economic – and moral, should this interest the Western powers – question, is how long the "civilised world" can go on supporting the nation whose citizens made up almost all of the suicide killers of 9/11?

The Arabian peninsula gave the world the Prophet and the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans and the Taliban and 9/11 and – let us speak the truth – al-Qa'ida. This week's protests in the kingdom will therefore affect us all – but none more so than the supposedly conservative and definitely hypocritical pseudo-state, run by a company without shareholders called the House of Saud.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Video with Women in Saudi Arabia

American-born Sheikh Hamza Yusuf became a Muslim in 1977 and has studied Islam with scholars from around the world since that time. He is one of the most visible and respected Islamic leaders in America and founded the Zaytuna Institute and Zaytuna College, both in California, to provide Islamic education for those desiring it. He also leads religious pilgrimmages called The Sacred Caravan to Saudi Arabia to visit the holy sites of Islam each year.

I think you will find the videos below (Part 1 and Part 2) of this frank discussion of Islam and how it relates to women quite interesting. In the videos, Sheikh Hamza meets with a group of women in Saudi Arabia. Much of the discussion centers on how the interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia is perverted (for lack of a better word) and how the practise of Islam in KSA is not necessarily what the religion intended.